From count to chimney sweep: Byron's 'manfred' in London theatres

  • Tunbridge L
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The lavish productions of London's patent theatres, Covent Garden and Drury Lane, received their most nuanced critiques from an unlikely source: their burlesques. These satirical entertainments in the minor theatres often transferred their subjects to contemporary settings as a means to comment on social, political, and artistic affairs. Such was the case with Byron's Manfred, which--despite the poet's claim that it was unsuited to the stage--was presented at Covent Garden in 1834. While the production's spectacular scenery was praised, the incidental music by Henry Bishop was not so well received. This muted response to Bishop's score was symptomatic of the changing fortunes of the composer and of music's use in theatres more generally. A burlesque of the Covent Garden production written by Gilbert Abbott a Beckett, Man-Fred, transformed Byron's Count into a chimney sweep in central London and lampooned Bishop's habit of assembling scores from the works of others as well as criticizing restrictions on performers. Drury Lane's revival of Manfred in 1863 was also recontextualized by its burlesque, Mad Fred. These reworkings of legitimate' theatre in illegitimate' settings provide insight into the values behind nineteenth-century music-theatrical practices and their relevance to society.

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  • Laura Tunbridge

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